Top Five GMO Failures
Top Five GMO Failures

Once permits are approved, Florida field trials will begin for the latest bioengineered crop—oranges. Designed by scientists at Cornell University, this new variety of Hamlin orange is similar to other genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in that it creates its own pesticide.

Depending upon the interest generated from farmers and industry, GMO oranges could be the next big crop—or flop. Genetically altered versions of crops have proven wildly successful in American agriculture—nearly all U.S. grown soy, corn, and cotton are bioengineered according to the Department of Agriculture (USDA)—but the industry also has a history of franken-failures.

Flavr Savr Tomato

Bioengineers manipulate plant genetics to produce all kinds of advantages. Flavr Savr tomato, the first GMO to enter the U.S. market, focused on taste and travel.

From farm to supermarket, tomatoes are often green. The method works well for shipping, but is not so great for taste. In the 1980s, researchers at Calgene, Inc. (now owned by Monsanto) designed a tomato that could withstand the rigors of transport, even after vine ripening, and still have a long, attractive shelf life. 

The Flavr Savr tomato was approved for sale in 1994, and GMO tomato paste soon outpaced conventional. However, after Dr. Arpad Pusztai revealed on British television that several test rats developed gut lesions and died after consuming GMO potatoes, public opinion turned and sales plummeted. Government and industry painted Pusztai a fraud, but Flavr Savr was defeated.

NewLeaf Potato

In 1995, Monsanto completed U.S. regulatory requirements for the NewLeaf potato, a Russet Burbank variety designed to ward off the Colorado potato beetle. But a 1998 study from the Institute of Nutrition of the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences showed that rats consuming NewLeaf experienced considerable organ damage—observations similar to those of Pusztai.

By 1999, U.S. farmers had planted about 50,000 acres of NewLeaf potatoes. The bioengineered spud was intended to be a big seller in the fast food and snack markets, but the food industry lost interest quickly. In 2000, Proctor & Gamble, McDonald’s, Frito-Lay, and others told suppliers that they preferred non-GMO potatoes.

By 2001, sales and marketing of NewLeaf was suspended. But according to a statement from the Monsanto website, “the products remain fully approved in the United States and Canada,” and may be released again once market demand returns.

Starlink Corn

One of the top GMO success stories is corn. Eighty-eight percent of U.S.-grown maize is now genetically engineered, but one particular strain released in 1998 caused big problems for conventional farmers.

Analysts determined that Starlink—a transgenic variety of yellow corn designed to rupture the stomach cells of pesky caterpillars—showed a potential for allergic reaction in humans. So when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approved Starlink, it was restricted exclusively to animal feed and fuel.

Despite precautions, the new corn soon wormed its way into the food supply. In just a few years, Starlink DNA was found in several corn varieties, and its widespread contamination was responsible for the recall of dozens of products. Starlink has been out of production for over a decade, but contamination was found in the Saudi Arabian food supply as recently as August 2013. 

In 2003, Aventis CropScience paid a group of U.S. farmers $110 million in a class-action lawsuit for the drop in corn prices associated with the Starlink contamination. The EPA later granted Starlink temporary approval for human consumption, but Aventis withdrew the registration.

LibertyLink Rice

In another case of genetic contamination, Bayer AG paid $750 million to thousands of U.S. farmers in 2011 after regulators determined that the company’s experimental LibertyLink rice had infested conventional long grain. The LibertyLink contamination not only caused a substantial drop in rice futures, but an entire strain of rice was lost for good.


GMO corn and soy have dominated American agriculture, but a genetically altered variation of the nation’s third-largest crop, wheat, never took off. 

In 2002, biotechnology giant Monsanto submitted an application for a wheat strain engineered with the same herbicide-resistant signature found in its other successful seed crops. But wheat growers backed away because foreign buyers were not interested and instead feared possible contamination with GMO varieties.

The foreign market is so opposed to GMO wheat that when an unapproved Monsanto strain from a long-abandoned field test found its way into an Oregon field in May, many grew suspicious of the entire U.S. supply. Monsanto suggests the runaway GMO was the result of vandals eager to hurt the company’s reputation.

  • pdabmo

    What a pathetically Inaccurate article. E.g Pusztai did his extremely poorly designed study long after Flavr Savr tomato came off the market. Never let the facts get in the way of a good story. This is regurgitated rubbish.

  • Alex Muir

    I’d like to be hearing more in the media about the perspective of Dr. Thierry Vrain, formerly Head of Biotechnology @ Agriculture Canada’s Summerland Research Station, once a supporter of GMO is now sharing his understanding of why the science behind genetic engineering is flawed in his recent Ted talk entitled The Gene Revolution, The Future of Agriculture:

    Canadians are having to go to the length of signing a petition for him to be interviewed by the CBC which is generally publishing AP articles suggesting there are no problems with GMO.

    As well there should be more discussion about the problems happening in India with GM cotton with poor farmers suffering, animals dying after grazing on the cotton leaves as the traditionally do and farmers protesting against the GM cottom.

    The clear problems with weed resistance reported by the BBC illustrating a failing technology destined to be defeated by the evolution of nature.

    And rootworm resistance:

    As well according to academic studies from Kansas and Wisconsin state University the Ht corn and Soy technology suffers from 5-10% yield drag because the creation of the new proteins requires energy and data from USDA do not showing increasing yields as GMO supporters are always on about.

    So Monsanto’s technologies although showing promise in the early days are increasingly failing to work effectively, while making famers quite depedent on a failing technology through a dominatnt market share and the need to enter into legal agreements do to patented seeds. Certainly that dependency is made worse when the technologies patented are not working as effectively.

    They are no longer reducing pesticide use and now the FDA is having to increase the allowable limits of glyphosate residue on food because farmers need to apply more and more.

  • Rob Bairos

    These aren’t exactly GMO failures, as a failing of the public to overcome its own hysteria on the topic.

  • Sharyn

    Messing with any food source DNA isn’t too cool. Nature did things that way on purpose.

  • Pony

    There is a reason for bio-diversity.

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